Saturday, December 30, 2006


Well, I'm still out of the country and away from speedy internet connections, but I'll have better access in a few days so I'll try to post more on some current issues.

Something that I've been meaning to do is to check to see what happened to some of the unionists arrested for protesting the labour bills that were passed on dec. 1st. Last time I checked, Hur Young Gu, (vice?) chairman of the KCTU, and founder of Speculative Capital Monitoring Center Korea (something like ATTAC) had been arrested. If anyone has an update please post it as a comment.

For now, however, I'll leave you with the following link to a story on punitive fines handed out to protesting teachers. Basically they were ordered to pay around 1000 dollars to each student and their parents. This sort of practice for dealing with strikes and protests (often called son hae bae sang) has been on the increase in recent years. Indeed, the monetary total of these fines is quite large compared to almost all other countries. Most of the time this just leads to more acrimonious strikes until the fine is rescinded or the union dissolves. At any rate, it is a practice that smacks of collective punishement to me, and is something that needs to be addressed.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Migrant Worker News Roundup

I'm going reprint the latest MWTV news as it really sums up some of the current issues going on in the migrant movement these days. MWTV always impresses me as they put out concise, up to date news in 7 or more languages every few weeks. Really keeps one up on what's going on here, for migrants at least. It is too bad there aren't similar sites for other organizations, but I guess this speaks partly to the dynamism of migrant organizations.

Welcome to Multilingual Migrant Worker News for this, the second week of December.

I'm Linda Kwon.

And now, our top story...

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge Bustamante, just finished his visit to Korea, December 4-11. During his visit, the Special Rapporteur met with interested parties from the government and civil organizations, as well as with representatives from the Migrant Worker Trade Union to discuss the current human rights situation for migrant workers in Korea, as well as government measures taken, including legislation, regarding migrant workers and their families.

On December 8th, the Special Rapporteur held an informal meeting with relevant organizations such as the MTU and the Joint Committee for Migrant Workers in Korea. During this meeting, he strongly criticized problems with the Employment Permit System and the infringement of migrant workers' human and labor rights. Jorge Bustamante also showed his concern about the situation of migrant women and their children, and human rights violation cases against these groups. The Special Rapporteur also investigated government policies regarding migrant workers, and a final recommendation will be submitted to the UN Security Council. On December 11th, Bustamante held a press conference before leaving for his next destination, Indonesia.

On December 10th, the United Nations special rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge Bustamane visited the MTU, and discussed various issues regarding migrant workers in Korean society. About 20 people including representatives from the UN, MTU president Anwar Hussein, and migrant workers participated in the meeting. During the meeting, the special rapporteur expressed his concern about the working conditions of undocumented migrant workers and the background of their decisions to come to Korea. He also listened to cases of human rights violations from the victims. MTU president, Anwar Hussein, emphasized that the international community such as the UN must endeavor to improve migrant workers' human and labor rights in Korean society. However, Mr. Bustamante responded that as the role of the special rapporteur is limited to collecting and reporting information about the situation of migrants to the UN, it is difficult for the UN to intervene in the domestic issues of the Korean government. An MTU member said that since any direct help from the UN special rapporteur is unlikely, migrant workers need to tackle their own problems from a longterm perspective.

On December 7th, migrant-worker-related civil organizations including the Migrant Worker Trade Union held a press conference to announce they would file a suit against the Korean government regarding human rights violations which have occurred during immigration raids on migrant workers. In March of this year, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, 아니서, suffered a broken arm, dislocated shoulder and nerve damage after an assault by an officer at the Incheon Immigration Bureau. Despite four operations, his injured shoulder will likely never fully recover.

As this case shows, there has been no sign of improvement on violations of human rights by the Korean government, and immigration officers continue to abuse their authority in illegal crackdowns.

아니서 said, "I am not an animal but a human. The Immigration Bureau has not given me any answers yet even though they broke my arm. Moreover, the Korean government has not taken any action nor investigated the Immigration Bureau or the officer who abused me." He seeks damages and asked for the immigration officer to be appropriately punished.

On November 30th, Korea's National Assembly passed a bill banning wage discrimination between regular and temporary Korean employees. Furthermore, any contract worker who has worked for more than two years will be guaranteed status as a regular employee. Although the Korean government believes that treatment toward temporary employees will improve through this new bill, labor organizations have a different view. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions strongly criticized the bill as bad legislation that would create a slave system for laborers due to the absence of the principle of 'equal labor, equal wage.'


The 'International Migrants Day' event will be held at Seoul's Marronnier Park on Sunday, December 17th. The anniversary ceremony will begin at 3:00pm, and an arts and culture showcase titled 'A Beautiful Night with Migrant Workers' will take place at the student cafeteria of Seoul National University's Medical School starting at 5:00pm. The secretary general of the Migrant Worker Trade Union, Masum, has requested the active participation of migrant workers, their families, as well as Korean citizens in these events as one way to help protect migrant workers' human and labor rights.

On December 18th, several events for migrant workers will be held across the nation to celebrate 'International Migrant Day', in conjunction with celebrations around the globe. On December 16th, a cultural event named 'Friends of Asia' will be hosted at Chungshin (충신) church in Ilsan. On December 17th, a public awareness campaign and photography exhibition by migrant workers will be held at Yeonsandong subway station in Busan. As part of the celebrations, also on the 17th, a Korean speaking contest will be held at the Korea Migrant Workers Human Rights Center in Incheon.
While there are estimated to be 400,000 migrant workers residing in Korea, a staggering 200 million migrants celebrate 'International Migrant Day' throughout the world.

In government news...

Last week, the government introduced a new bill for legislation regarding migrant workers. The bill is tentatively being called the "Foreigner Treatment bill".

If this bill passes in the Parliament, it will aim to improve the living and working conditions of foreigners living in Korea, along with their families as well as political exiles already bearing official refugee status. This bill is also expected to improve the international reputation of Korea in terms labor and human rights.

But the government is anticipating wide criticism of the bill, considering the fact that the primary target group of this bill only extends to migrant workers with legal status, and leaves out the much larger group of undocumented migrant workers and political refugees without government recognized refugee status.

On December 5th, 'The World Distribution of Household Wealth' was published by the United Nations University-World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER). The authors note that income inequality is becoming a serious global issue. Among the richest 1% of individuals in the world, 37% reside in the United States and 27% in Japan. In other words, this means that more than half of the richest 1% of adults in the world reside in these two countries. This 1% also owns more than half of all global household wealth according to the institute's research. In contrast, the bottom 50% of the world's adult population own barely 1% of global wealth. In addition, the research shows that 2 out of the 100 richest individuals are Korean, and the Republic of Korea shares 1.11% of global wealth.

In international trade news....

The US Korea Free Trade Agreement talks have hit a snag after the Korean government found bone fragments in a portion of a beef shipment from the United States. Although bone in beef shipments is a violation of import conditions between the two countries, the U.S government criticized the Korean government's decision to send back the shipments. Under the agreement, the U.S. is supposed to export only "boneless'' beef. U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under-Secretary Chuck Lambert raised concerns of a conspiracy theory that the bone fragments might have been planted.

In financial news...

Despite strong intervention by the Korean government, the foreign exchange rate remains at about 920 Korean won to one U.S. dollar, a more than 10 percent decrease from the beginning of 2006. Migrant workers who transfer money to their home countries in US dollars are now paying a relatively lower commission for the service. However, the revaluation of the won stunned investors and traders from small-to-midsize businesses due to the rise in export costs. According to economists, the Korean won is forecast to remain strong against the US dollar.

In regional news...

On the 7th of December, female migrants along with members from the migrant center and the YMCA gathered in Hongsung in Southern Chungchung Province to demand the discontinuation of street advertisements for Vietnamese brides. One of these banner advertisements was ripped up during the demonstration. Currently, there are around 150 migrant women who have come to live in the Hongsung area via international marriage arrangements.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea sponsored an exhibtion entitled "Different but the Same" at the Gwanghwamun gallery of Sejong Cultural Center. The work on display all centers around the theme`s of human rights, and the works represent a variety of media including comics, photography, posters and film. The exhibition was held for two weeks and the final day of the exhibition is today, Tuesday the 12th. The exhibition will travel on to Pusan next, and next year it will make stops in Gwangju and Ilsan.

On December 7th, the Ansan Support Center for Migrant Workers opened near Jungang Station. The center will be operated by the Ministry of Labor and will provide migrant workers with a comfortable space and various services. For more information, please call the number on your screen.


That's all for this, the second week edition of Multilingual Migrant Worker News for December.
You can watch rebroadcasts of the news on our web site at or

Thanks for being with us. Good night.

busy holidays

I'll be sporadically posting over the next few weeks as I'm going back to Canada for the break.

Of course the last few weeks have busy here with a crackdown against the KCTU for protests against labour law reform and the FTA. International migrants day is today also, and there was a rally of migrant workers here in Marrioner park which was well attended considering the cold weather. You can read about these events of course at the MWTV site and the labourstart newswire on the left hand sidebar. I'll also be posting periodically, hopefully, as an attempt to keep up with the news, but my parents only have dial-up, so no promises.

Monday, December 11, 2006

labour flexibilized

Here is a more in-depth look at the recent irregular workers bills that were passed by the national assembly on dec. 1st, from the ICEM website. As it mentions:

The new irregular workers’ law will, beginning in July 2007, allow employers with 300 workers or more to utilise contract or agency workers for up to two years before they must be made permanent. The same policy becomes effective in July 2008 for companies with 100 to 299 workers. For companies with fewer than 100 workers, the two-year period takes effect in September 2008.

“South Korea has effectively opened a revolving door for the use of contract and agency workers,” said ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs. “Employers can now use, abuse, and then discard contract workers within a two-year time period, which certainly will prove to be detrimental to sustainable and family-supporting full-time direct employment inside the country.”
This, in some way, concludes the process that I described last year, but, as always, the struggle goes on.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

block traffic, go to jail

Here's an english breakdown of yesterday's protests from the big press. It's good numbers and places, but once again, is more concerned about the effect of protests on traffic than it is on about the issues. The part where the police promise to hunt down those responsible for blocking traffic is especially good reading. By the indication of the article they also plan to charge the Democratic Labour Party for allowing people to hold up signs against the FTA. Lovely logic there.

Translation of Seattle Han-Mi FTA protest video

Here's a link to a recently translated video on the Seattle protests against the Korea-US free trade agreement protests. Courtesy of Chamsesang.

Another wednesday, more buses, cops, and banned protests

Well, once again, police banned rallies against the FTA in Seoul. Here is a link to a story from the Korea times. Once again, all this is because of the rallies on the 22nd, which got pretty heated in the provinces (I just found this ohmynews photo album here). The National Human Rights Commission and other groups have asked the police to allow demonstrations.

As of 630 pm, it seems that around 10 have been arrested with about 700 taking part in civil disobediance (laying down on the road) outside of myoungdong. 2,500 - 5000 attended the protest at different times according to chamsesang news. As of 8pm, the rally had turned into to a candlight vigil in front of Myoungdong Cathedral. As of 1030, there had been some police charges on the protestors in Myoungdong. Here is the link to their article, with breaking news and pictures, in Korean. I hope my translation is correct.

Earlier this morning, around 11am, 8-12 activist gathered in front of the Seodaemun police headquarters to protest the banning of the protests. Here is a short, comedic video from Chamsesang news. Notice how the police temporarily attact the protest to steal one of their props, it then starts up again. Still the police to demonstrator ratio remains 20 to 1 or more. Don't they understand the concept of overkill?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cinema Seoulidarity -- This Saturday

An interesting event this week in both English and Korean. See you there!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Friday's rally against labour bills

As reported below, the national assembly passed three bills on irregular work last week which were oppossed by both the KCTU and minor opposition party KDLP. There was a pretty heavy protest of the bill the following day, video from which you can see here. A union rally in front of the national assembly was met with a lot of police force, including water cannon in temperatures just below freezing.

(UPDATE: Dec 5th). Here's the link to a longer video on the protests, taken by a local video activist. The fighting looked pretty fierce. I noticed the police have been using this short distance gaseous substance, it seems to me that the use of this stuff has not been documented in the English press. There is suppossed to be a moratorium on the use of tear gas, but I wonder if this violates that. Similar gas was used at other big protests this year, notably the anti-fta protests in July and at other smaller events.